Major League Roundup

Week two saw the emergence of the once awful Phillies and the decline of the once mighty Royals. It witnessed the continual struggles of A-Rod's bat in New York, the historic night of Barry Bonds in San Francisco and the and the awakening of Adam Dunn in Cincinnati. TheInsiders' Ian Levin has the complete rundown in this week's Major League Roundup.

Anaheim Angels: (Record: 7-6, Week: 3-4)
When the Angels signed Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Guillen to fill their outfield, Darin Erstad agreed to move to first base. By doing so, the team lost one of the best defensive center fielders in the game and created an offensive hole at a top offensive position, first base. The general belief is that your first baseman is supposed to be one of your best hitters and Erstad is not that. He is hitting just .228 and has the lowest OPS of any starter on the Angels, .547. Erstad will need to pick up his offensive output if he is to justify the move to first.

Baltimore Orioles: (Record: 7-4, Week: 4-0)
After posting the best year of his career in 2003, Javy Lopez boosted his value and was able to sign a big money contract. Many believed that it wouldn't be possible for Lopez to come close to repeating his 2003 performance and wouldn't be worth the money the Orioles gave him. Lopez has done his best thus far to refute the naysayers. He is hitting a robust .455 with seven extra-base hits. He is tied for the team league with three home runs and while he probably can't repeat last season, it appears he might come close.

Boston Red Sox: (Record: 6-5, Week: 2-2)
Of all the big-name acquisitions made by AL East teams during the off-season, Curt Schilling may have the most individual effect on the standings. He gives the Red Sox one of the best rotations in baseball and a top three that is hard to match. Even at age 37, Schilling is showing no signs of slowing down. He has made three starts and the Sox have won each game. He has a 2.66 ERA through 20.1 innings and has struck out 25 compared to just 23 baserunners. If he is able to maintain this pace, he could pass Pedro Martinez as the team ace.

Chicago White Sox: (Record: 8-4, Week: 5-1)
Esteban Loaiza had the year of his life in 2003. He set career highs in starts, wins, ERA, strikeouts and virtually every other category. As with Javy Lopez, many doubt his ability to post a similar season in 2004. On April 18 in Tampa Bay, he showed that he can be just as good this year. Loaiza threw a complete-game shutout, allowing just two hits and a walk and he struck out five. If the White Sox are to compete in the AL Central, they will need many more of those kind of performances from Loaiza.

Cleveland Indians: (Record: 5-8, Week: 3-3)
C.C. Sabathia is one of the youngest and most talented pitchers in the league. Even though his Indians have posted a sub-.500 record since he broke into the league in 2001, his record has been well over .500 (44-25). His ERA has gotten better each year and it appears the trend may continue. In three starts he has thrown 21 innings, allowing 22 baserunners and striking out 18. His ERA is a sparkling 1.71 even after allowing three runs over eight innings in his second start.

Detroit Tigers: (Record: 7-5, Week: 2-4)
It is week two of the regular season and the Detroit Tigers are still over .500. In hindsight, it wouldn't have been so far-fetched to have expected this. They made a few strong acquisitions during the winter and they're already showing their worth. Ivan Rodriguez, Fernando Vina, Rondell White, and Carlos Guillen have combined to post a .316 batting average with five home runs, 32 runs scored, and 29 RBI. These are not your Tigers of 2003, this is a team that can legitimately challenge the .500 mark.

Kansas City Royals: (Record: 4-8, Week: 0-6)
Kansas City did not have a good week. They got swept by two division rivals in the White Sox and Twins. Their offense, particularly the big three of Beltran, Sweeney, and Gonzalez, has done its part but the pitching has been awful to say the least. The team has a combined ERA of 6.12 and just one pitcher who has started at least one game, Dennys Reyes, has an ERA below four. It would be safe to assume for most other teams in this situation that they would improve. However, with the Royals and their young and relatively inexperienced pitchers, that might not be the case.

Minnesota Twins: (Record: 8-4, Week: 5-1)
Even with the various injuries that have hit the Twins early in the year, they managed to have a great week. They swept the lifeless Royals and took two of three from the Indians. When the pitching didn't cooperate on April 16, Henry Blanco carried the offense. When the offense wasn't having a strong day, they got an eight-inning shutout from Brad Radke. The overall numbers don't look strong and don't project well for the future success of the team, but for the past week, it was all they needed.

New York Yankees: (Record: 6-6, Week: 2-2)
Countdown to George Steinbrenner's next explosion: 23 days. The seemingly infallible Yankee offense has managed to hit just .217, good enough for 28th in baseball. No regular is hitting above .267 and Alex Rodriguez is last among starters with a .160 average. The team is lucky to be 6-6. Thank you, Kevin Brown.

Oakland Athletics: (Record: 8-4, Week: 4-2)
Jermaine Dye missed most of 2003 so he needs to make up for lost time. In 49 at-bats this season, he has already hit six home runs; two more than he hit in 221 at-bats in 2003. His average and OPS are .327 and 1.153, both about double what they were last season. It's safe to say that Dye is back and healthy. His bat in the lineup is exactly what the A's need to compliment their pitching.

Seattle Mariners: (Record: 4-8, Week: 3-3)
Finally, the team is beginning to look like a major league baseball team. After a horrendous start, Seattle has begun its trek back to .500. As they have shown over the past four days, the pitching is what is going to bring them back to their expected level. The Mariners have gone 3-1 over their last four games and the starters have posted a 3.25 ERA. If the M's can continue that trend, expect them to be above .500 and back in contention very soon.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: (Record: 5-6, Week: 1-3)
Rocco Baldelli hasn't had quite the same success beginning the season as he did in 2003. Baldelli took the American League by storm early last season, his rookie year. This year, however, has been an early struggle. In 41 at-bats, Baldelli is hitting just .195. He has yet to have a hit for extra bases or steal a base, and has only driven in one run. Baldelli was even dropped to the ninth spot in the batting order. That change is not permanent though. Expect him to get back into form soon and provide a spark for the Rays' offense.

Texas Rangers: (Record: 6-7, Week: 3-4))
After a break-out 2003 season which earned him a new $10 million contract, Michael Young is showing that he is worth every cent. Young is hitting .386 with seven extra-base hits in 57 at-bats. He has scored 13 runs, driven in 11, and has even stolen two bases. Young is putting up these offensive numbers while playing the position vacated by the former Rangers' shortstop, Alex Rodriguez. Young is a key to the success of the Rangers in both the short-term and the long-term.

Toronto Blue Jays: (Record: 3-9, Week: 2-4)
The Blue Jays are another team whose offense is considered to be the strongest part of the team. However, like the Yankees, the Jays' offense is struggling mightily. Their team batting average is .215, second worst in baseball. Their primary offensive threat, Carlos Delgado, is hitting a measly .119 with two home runs. Like the Yankees and other struggling teams, they will soon regain their form, but they could dig quite a hole for themselves before they do so.

Arizona Diamondbacks: (Record: 4-8, Week: 2-4)
Brandon Webb's early-season pitching has been like night and day. However, the disparity doesn't come between starts but between innings. He has allowed a 12.00 ERA and 10 baserunners in the first inning of his three starts. After escaping the first inning, he has been very impressive, posting a 1.80 ERA. He is planning on trying different pre-game routines in an attempt to correct the first inning problems. If he is able to do so, he will be one of the better pitchers in the National League and will form an outstanding one-two punch with Randy Johnson.

Atlanta Braves: (Record: 7-5, Week: 4-2)
After pitching three innings through three games in the first week of the season, John Smoltz appears to be back to normal. In his first week, Smoltz allowed four runs, including a home run in each appearance. He even blew one of his two save opportunities. In the second week, Smoltz was back to the pitcher we've been accustomed to. He pitched in three games without allowing even a single baserunner, and he saved both games in which there was an opportunity. His ERA will reflect his rough first week until he can accumulate more innings, but his arm is just fine.

Chicago Cubs: (Record: 6-6, Week: 3-3)
The Cubs are just a .500 team at the moment, but their offense is not to blame. They are hitting .291 as a team and have slugged 26 home runs. Moises Alou is leading the way with six of those homers and Sammy Sosa is not far behind with four. Four of the starters have an OPS over 1.000 and the team as a whole is at .906. When the pitching shapes up as it is expected to do, this is a very scary team.

Cincinnati Reds: (Record: 7-4, Week: 3-2)
Until Sunday, Adam Dunn was in the midst of one of the strangest stat lines in the league. He had five home runs and five RBI, obviously all of the home runs were solo shots and even while batting .394, he failed to drive in any other runs. Finally on April 18, Dunn hit two homers with men on base - one being a 3-run shot off Greg Maddux and the other a 2-run bomb off Kent Mercker. With Dunn hitting and a strong offense overall to go along with its surprising pitching, the Reds could make some noise in the NL Central.

Colorado Rockies: (Record: 5-7, Week: 3-3)
While in Colorado, Vinny Castilla was one of the best hitters in baseball. After he left, his numbers dropped to a more pedestrian level. In an attempt to get back to his career high numbers, Castilla moved back to Colorado and so far it is paying off. In 43 at-bats, he has four homers and eight total extra-base hits. While his .279 average isn't up to his previous highs, his on-base percentage of .396 is much higher than he's ever done before. The early power signs and high OBP bode well for his year-long potential in Colorado.

Florida Marlins: (Record: 8-4, Week: 3-3)
Miguel Cabrera became a household name after coming through for the Marlins down the stretch and in the playoffs. He has been moved up to third in the lineup and he's giving the Marlins all they could have ever dreamed. In 45 at-bats, he is hitting .333 with six home runs and leads the team with 12 runs scored. He is also tied for the team lead with nine RBI. With the way he is hitting, it is very easy to forget that he is just 21 years old and will be around for a long time.

Houston Astros: (Record: 9-4, Week: 6-1)
Richard Hidalgo was the topic of many trade rumors in the off-season, but the Astros must be pleased that they held on to him. He is one of the hottest hitters in the league, hitting .431 with 10 extra-base hits in 51 at-bats. He is second in the league with 19 RBI and sixth with 12 runs scored. He is sure to cool off soon but with the Astros' depth in their lineup, someone else could step in and carry the offense at that point.

Los Angeles Dodgers: (Record: 9-3, Week: 5-1)
Paul Lo Duca is known as a hot starter but this is crazy. In 43 at-bats, the catcher has 22 hits. No, that's not a typo. He is hitting .512. I don't know what is more amazing, though, his average or the fact that he's been on base 26 times including walks. Unexplainably, he has scored only four times. Note to the Dodgers: Take advantage of this amazing streak now, it won't last much longer.

Milwaukee Brewers: (Record: 6-8, Week: 2-5)
Scott Podsednik: riding the coat-tails of his break-out 2003 or overlooked player who always had this talent? If he can keep this run going, the latter may just be true. Podsednik is hitting .317 with six extra-base hits in 60 at-bats. He has scored 12 runs and has already swiped nine bases. If this is the present and future of Scott Podsednik in Milwaukee, he provides another building block for the Brewers' future success.

Montreal Expos: (Record: 2-10, Week: 0-6)
Nineteen. Yes, 19. In twelve games the Expos have scored 19 runs. The Phillies have scored the second fewest runs in baseball but they're at least at 37. Everyone thought losing Vladimir Guerrero would hurt, but not this bad. Losing Nick Johnson and now Carl Everett to injuries haven't helped much either. This team, including the offense, is much better than this but they need to get healthy in a hurry.

New York Mets: (Record: 5-7, Week: 2-4)
After hitting three homers in his first two games, Mike Piazza has cooled off considerably. Piazza has hit just .171 without an extra-base hit or an RBI since the third game of the year. He is on the verge of breaking the record for career home runs by a catcher and he could be scuffling because of that. With the Mets' injuries, though, the last thing they need is a healthy regular that is struggling.

Philadelphia Phillies: (Record: 5-6, Week: 4-1)
After a rough start, matched only by the Mariners, the Phillies have bounced back on the strength of their pitching. The offense continues to struggle with the exception of Pat Burrell. Burrell, the most disappointing player of 2003 seems to have put it all behind him. He is currently second on the team with a .350 batting average, leads the team with 11 RBI and seven runs scored, and is tied for the lead with two home runs. If Burrell continues his rebound season and the offense rebounds as expected, the Phillies may do something they haven't done since 1993; win the NL East.

Pittsburgh Pirates: (Record: 7-5, Week: 4-2)
The Pirates' new plan should be to acquire every Wilson possible. Jack Wilson, the light-hitting shortstop, is hitting .391 with two home runs, five doubles and three stolen bases. Craig Wilson, the masher, is hitting .396 with four homers and six doubles. If you're a Steelers fan, like I am, should you begin pulling for Mark Wilson in the draft this weekend? I will.

San Diego Padres: (Record: 6-6, Week: 3-3)
Brian Giles is, without question, one of the best hitters in baseball. He hasn't had a batting average below .298 or an on-base percentage below .404 since 1998, when he was still in Cleveland. His bat is very crucial to the Padres' success and it is showing. He is hitting just .111 with a .259 OBP. He has only driven in two runs but thanks to his walks, he has scored seven. Maybe he just needs to adjust to the new park. Whatever it is that is causing Giles to struggle, he will likely correct the problems very soon.

San Francisco Giants: (Record: 5-7, Week: 2-4)
Other than Barry Bonds, the Giants must be most pleased with the progress that Jason Schmidt has made coming off surgery during the off-season. After not pitching much during the spring, Schmidt is already back in the rotation and looking strong. In his first start of the season, he went seven innings and allowed just six baserunners and two runs. Schmidt is possibly as much a key to the Giants' success as Bonds is.

St. Louis Cardinals: (Record: 6-7, Week: 2-4)
The Cardinals don't like being the underdog in the crowded NL Central but their early-season performance has shown why they are. While their offense has taken the league by storm, at the top of the league in every offensive category, their pitching has been sub-par. The staff has posted a 6.00 ERA and has allowed 1.5 baserunners per inning. Only two pitchers have an ERA below 4.00 and Matt Morris is leading the rotation with a 4.50 ERA. If they are to compete with the pitching-rich teams of the NL Central, they will certainly need to step up, and soon.

Stat of the week:
Last week I told you that Scott Rolen was on pace for 301 RBI and that his pace would drop by 100 for this week. While I was right that his pace would drop, it wasn't quite as extreme as I expected. The first line is his pace from last week and the second line from this week. Not much difference:

162 G, 694 AB, 162 runs, 93 HR, 301 RBI
162 G, 660 AB, 150 runs, 87 HR, 286 RBI

Obviously he won't be able to maintain this pace but since he is hitting behind Albert Pujols, I believe he can lead the league in RBI and post his best offensive season yet. Look out A-Rod, you just might have some competition for the title of best third baseman in baseball.

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